In this week’s Parasha, Moshe assembled the nation and conveyed the importance of the mitzvah to observe Shabbat. Why is the fundamental of Shabbat observance expressed primarily through refraining from creative acts?
Dayan Dr. Isidor Grunfeld z”l suggests a unique perspective. As human beings, G-d endowed us with numerous talents and abilities to impact the world. Although we cannot create something from nothing, we are highly successful at utilizing our abilities and available resources to further our ends. We possess finite skills to create and control within our environment. Thus, we are partners with G-d in our responsibility to manage and improve the world. However, this can engender arrogance. Since we are so successful at what we do, we are liable to make the mistake that we are the actual creators and exert absolute control over the world. Shabbat comes as a reminder that only G-d truly creates and has complete control over everything. In contrast, we refrain from creative acts to acknowledge our subservience to G-d, the actual Master, over creation. By not manipulating or interfering with nature on Shabbat, we demonstrate that we don’t possess the power to manage and control; only G-d does.
Part of the function – and beauty – of mitzvot is that by guiding our actions, they ingrain within us an appreciation and connection to the fundamentals of our faith. Shabbat observance is essential because it demonstrates our loyalty to the knowledge that G-d created the world and took us out of Egypt.
Some believe that work defines their place in the world. This is the thesis of the modern-day term, “workism,” which suggests that work is the centrepiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose. By contrast, we Jews believe that what Shabbat – not work – celebrates is the centrepiece of our identity and defines our life’s purpose.
We may, indeed we do, work hard, but we don’t confuse the notion that work defines the world. Rather we understand the fundamental principle that G-d created the world by our observing Shabbat.
Rabbi Shlomo Gabay